Saturday is a big day at Belmont Park, as the slate includes five graded stakes races. Two of them make up half of the late Pick Four, which begins in the eighth of 11 races on the program. I’m approaching this with an economical, budget-friendly ticket, but one that could provide a surprising return since I’m leaving out a few favorites. Here’s how I’ll play it.
We’ll start things off with a maiden special weight event for older fillies and mares. This drew a field of 10, and while I’m using the likely favorite, there’s a bigger price I felt the need to include, too.
#5 IN ITALIAN makes her second start for Chad Brown, and she ran a good second in her debut at Tampa in March. She had a bit of traffic trouble that day, but seems to have emerged from that effort in good form judging by a recent bullet drill at Payson Park. Chad Brown and Irad Ortiz, Jr., team up with this daughter of Dubawi, and she’s a logical choice.
#9 FLAMING ROUGE, meanwhile, makes her U.S. debut after five starts overseas last year. She showed some potential there and gets Lasix here, which could move her forward. The layoff is a bit of a concern, but Christophe Clement has hit at a 20% clip with similar stock, per The Daily Racing Form, and the presence of Joel Rosario is a plus.
The Grade 3 Peter Pan took a hit when news broke that #6 RISK TAKING will scratch and instead be pointed to next weekend’s Preakness Stakes. We’re left with a field of five, and I’m going two-deep.
#2 NOVA RAGS seems like the most probable favorite. He ran a close-up second in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs before finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Florida Derby. He comes in off of several strong half-mile drills, and he’s got enough tactical speed to be on or near the lead in a race without much in the way of early pace.
#3 PROMISE KEEPER is on my ticket as well. If you can forgive his clunker in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby, his form looks significantly sharper. His last-out win at Keeneland was very good, and his last-out Beyer Speed Figure of 85 is the highest such number in the field. If he can string two sharp races together, he’ll have a big chance.
The Grade 1 Man O’ War is a fascinating race, and the big question is, what do we do with #1 SOVEREIGN? Sovereign pulled off a massive upset by winning the Group 1 Irish Derby in 2019, but he hasn’t won since, he hasn’t raced since November, and while he’s a European runner debuting in the U.S., he does so without Lasix, which isn’t allowed in graded stakes races anymore.
I’ll try to beat him by singling #8 GUFO, the likely second choice. This one has never run a bad race in his career, one that included a win in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby last fall. He ran close behind Domestic Spending twice, and that one recently dead-heated in the Grade 1 Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on Derby Day. If Gufo is ready to run, I think he’s the horse to beat, and if he’s not favored, I think he’ll be an overlay.
We’ll finish things off with what sure looks like the second division of the eighth race, as it has the same conditions and distance. A field of 10 will head to the gate here, and this is another spot where I’m against the likely favorite.
#2 RASTAFARA had everything her own way in her debut at Tampa. She cruised to the front going down the backstretch, got clear by two lengths turning for home, and was run down. We haven’t seen her since that January effort, and 5/2 just seems like too short of a price. If she beats me, I’ll live with it.
#3 SCARABEA is my top selection, and she provides some value at 10-1 on the morning line. She ran a big race two back at Kentucky Downs, when she rallied to be second going a mile, and her return to the races wasn’t bad, either. She rated well behind a very moderate pace, and between the likely race shape and the chances she’ll take a step forward second off the bench, I think there’s a lot to like.
I’ll also use the “other” Chad Brown trainee, #6 GABBY SQUARED. She’s run reasonably well in three turf starts and may have been compromised by a quirky Aqueduct turf course in her return to the races last month. If she can recapture her two-back form, when she was beaten just a half-length at Gulfstream, she’s got a shot to not just best her stablemate, but top all the others in the field as well.
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